Watch Yourself

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on May 22, 2017 by seeinthedark

The following dialogue was recently recorded between the reviewer and a convenient fiction. It is the reviewer’s hope that it defines a better way to critique his beloved medium:

Nameless Shill: What is one thing the world doesn’t need, Mr. Peabody?

Peabody: Genocide.

Shill: True. How about something less exciting?

Peabody: Oh, that’s easy, a movie review blog. movie-theater

Shill: Too true… So, what is this you’re working on?

Peabody: A movie review blog.

Shill: Interesting. Why?

Peabody: Because I like writing and I like movies.

Shill: But aren’t you worried that you’re just duplicating a lot of other critics’ efforts?

Peabody: I would be if I paid attention to them… or were thinking of this venture in terms of exposure or market share or a blog roll like this one. [He is, by the way.]

Shill: I see. Still, it must be difficult to sustain interest in a generic redundancy.

Peabody: Well said, Shill. As it happens, I believe I may have carved out my own little niche in this great big world of movie reviews.

Shill: How so, Mr. Peabody? And might I compliment you on your pronunciation of the word niche.

Peabody: Thank you! Well, my approach is grounded in my firm belief that this business about critics’ abilities to transcend their own subjectivity is a bunch of horse manure. Instead, it seemed more honest to identify the nature of that subjectivity before viewing and then let my readers, if I’m lucky enough to draw any, decide for themselves whether the movie stands up on its own merits or whether personal factors have blinded me to a movie’s virtues or flaws.

Shill: Intriguing premise! But doesn’t that only go so far? I mean, without a second viewing, at least a few months separated from the first, your readers would be missing a critical reference point.

Peabody: It’s about time you started earning some of that sweet shilling coin! Yes, you are absolutely right. That’s why I’ll be creating a second, linked review at least three months separated from the first. Also, as part of that second review, I’ll record my memory of the first viewing as a potential biasing factor.

Shill: Wow! That seems like a long way to go for a movie review!

Peabody: I know, but that’s just the burden of excellence. I’m about to get things started with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2Care to join me?

Shill: I’ll be with you in a minute, Mr. Peabody.

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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on June 6, 2017 by seeinthedark

gotg2

Full Disclosure:

A couple of things. This is a sequel, so it’s hard not to let expectations from the first GotG color my perception of this one. That said, my perception of the first one was that it wasn’t bad for a two-hour music video, checking off nearly all the boxes one might have for a superhero action-comedy. I’ve deliberately avoided reviews and extended trailers, but since I’m seeing it a bit late in its cycle, some critical buzz has gotten through. I haven’t read any particulars, but I have heard it generally positively compared to the first GotG.

The list, as it comes to mind:

  • I am expecting to endure a lot of gratuitously sassy-cute Baby Groot moments. (Items like this are a predictable par for the course.) But, hey, I get it. That beach-front property isn’t going to pay its own staff, so pander away. At least we won’t have to listen to Vin Diesel’s actual voice.
  • I have Chris Pratt issues. The dude has made the first part of his career as a slacker goof-ball. This character seems like a deliberate exploitation of that image. Is goofy plus heroic supposed to equal complexity? I just don’t get him.
  • And Kurt Russell issues. Sure, you can name a few good movies with him, but was any movie ever improved by his presence in it? Eight years separates Escape from New York from the founding of IMDb, and I’m convinced that no one who rates it positively has watched it in the interim.
  • On the positive side, Marvel has generally at least attempted to develop satisfying characters through action and demonstrated–in real contrast to DC’s effects-budgets-gone-wrong–some real imagination and surprise in its action sequences. (See Thor: The Dark World‘s and Dr. Strange‘s playful use of time and/or space.)

In Short…

I’m anticipating a better-than-average diversion prompting a couple of music downloads from the iTunes store.

Where/When

Cinemark, Tinseltown, Pearl, MS/11:55 a.m.

The Snacks

Popcorn, Diet Coke, Jelly Bellies. (Don’t judge; I actually sometimes prefer the taste of Diet Coke!)

The Context

Pretty much woke up, ate breakfast, did some yoga, washed up, and went to the movies. Not the best sleep in the world, but the yoga made me feel pretty good. Also, having nothing else planned makes the viewing feel more like an event. Can be good or bad. It can create this kind of impenetrable bubble of movie-going joy, or it can raise expectations unrealistically.

The Company

My whole family. Daughters out of college for the summer, and we’re having our annual May-birthday bash,


Post-Viewing Conversations…

…with two of my kids as exiting the theater, with everyone over Pho. If I had my preference, this is how all post-movie conversations would occur.

When I First Knew…

…that my expectations were about on target. Some nice mis-direction on the opening battle sequence, occurring mostly in the background as credits roll and baby Groot tries to get the sound system working. (Did I mention that I was expecting some cashing-in on Baby Groot’s cuteness?) I will say that setting an action sequence… or comedy sequence… or generally light-hearted montage to E.L.O.’s “Mr. Blue Sky” is the cinematic equivalent to a chef’s adding bacon to her dish; sure it tastes good, but it doesn’t require a lot of thought or skill. While I’m on the music, I must say that I had hoped that Vol. 2 was going to improve on the first movie’s generally weak ear-candy factor. (Sure you can tap your toe to “Hooked on a Feeling,” but only “Spirit in the Sky” truly rates on the bad-ass-o-meter, which I would consider necessary for sequences where our heroes are supposed to be–well–badass.) This line-up wasn’t a whole lot more powerful, with Fleetwood Mac’s “Chain” being the anchor in an otherwise meh action music soundtrack. Not to belabor the point too much, but one of my fellow viewers read the selection as ironically blah. If so, the point was lost on me.

Writer/Director James Gunn knows how to fully exploit his leading man’s goofy charm, most notably with Pratt’s earnest dependence on campy Gen-X icons like Pac-Man or David Hasselhoff. His seamlessly moving from one icon to the other, conflating actor and character, or somehow shoe-horning in some lesson from them only enhances that charm. If you found this funny and endearing in the first installment, you’ll have plenty to cheer on in Vol. 2 as well, particularly as Quill must assume the shape of a powerful force in a showdown with his father.

When it Surprised Me…

After the Guardians crash land on Endor and Quill’s biological (or cosmological) father, Ego (Russell) saves them from Kylo Ren, he somehow (for some reason that still eludes me and everyone with whom I saw the movie) persuades Quill, Drax, and Gamora to accompany him back to his home planet. Once there, Ego, a world-creating, super-intelligent “Celestial,” describes his quest for the divine in the universe as a quest for an intelligence and power even greater than his own. His search naturally raises the question, “How powerful must one be before s/he stops looking for another even more powerful being to call divine?” In that moment and in a few that followed, GotG2 exposed western religion’s obsession with the so-called incommunicable attributes of God (i.e. those like omniscience and omnipotence) at the expense of that most important trait, Love. Ego’s dependence on an empath (who makes a point of emphasizing that she is not a telepath) and a few other moments help explore this question. Not as in-depth as the average Philosophy 101 classroom, but then not as dull either.

The Big Picture

Roughly the picture I expected, with a few thought-provoking moments that made it worth the price of a ticket and further cemented Marvel’s film superhero superiority to DC’s. That I was able to suspend my issues with Chris Pratt… and Kurt Russell… and–I failed to mention–Sylvester Stallone is, I suppose, a testament to its success.